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56 Days Later: Going Through Phases

This Friday will mark two months since Oregon’s Governor, Kate Brown, announced the shut-down of public spaces, large gatherings, parks, bars, restaurants, and any other venue where social distancing measures could not be safely maintained amid COVID-19 concerns.

While it’s been heartening to see the citizens of the Portland Metro take these measures to heart – although it seemed to take over a month for most people to adhere to them, it’s a start. So, now that everyone (hopefully) has a mask, gets the social distancing concept, and isn’t running to the beach whenever temps spike, we’re already talking about the state reopening?

Phase I

In case you missed it, on Thursday, Gov. Brown held a press conference describing “a science driven framework for reopening Oregon” over the coming months. For fear of making any of these deliberately broad definitions sound too defined, I’ll refer you to the clear and concise video slideshow below:

Suffice it to say that our state government is doing the right thing in using our ability to contain the virus dictate how each of three Phases will be started and where (i.e. not a timeline based on holidays or the performance of the stock market – don’t get me started).

The biggest surprise is that counties that meet certain criteria, and have applied to enter Phase I, can begin to reopen under specific guidelines, as soon as May 15. The criteria counties must meet:

  • Show a decline in COVID-19 or have fewer than 5 hospitalizations 
  • Have sufficient COVID-19 testing and contact tracing capability
  • Establish plans for the isolation and quarantine of new cases
  • Have the hospital capacity to handle any surge in COVID-19 cases
  • Have enough personal protective equipment for health care workers

Counties meeting these criteria are then allowed to reopen the following:

  • Restaurants and bars for sit-down service
  • Personal care and services businesses, including barbers and salons
  • In-person gatherings of up to 25 people
Oregon Gov. Kate Brown before announcing new guidelines

Counties must remain in Phase I for at least 21 days before advancing to Phase II, which will enable increased gathering sizes, some returning to office work, and an increase in visitation capabilities in care facilities. Phase II has been deliberately kept vague so as to adjust following Phase I.

For those in the Portland area: Multnomah, Washington, and Clackamas counties don’t currently show that they have applied for Phase I “under review” as of Saturday, but you can monitor each Oregon county here. UPDATE: as of Monday evening, May 11th, only four counties don’t have pending submissions for Phase one – all three counties above, plus Lincoln County.

For those who own or work in Restaurants, Bars, Breweries, Tasting Rooms, and/or Distilleries, be sure to check out the Phase I guidance available here. Most everything I’ve included here, and much more, is noted on Gov. Kate Brown’s site including the aforementioned counties that have applied for Phase I, tons of documentation, and guidance for employers, workers, and much more.

Reality vs Reopening

“Grain Out” at Ruse Brewing, April 25th 2020

Last week I ran into a friend while picking up to-go beers at a brewery in town. It was our first time crossing paths since well before the pandemic took hold locally. The first thing he mentioned to me was “this is my first time out of the house since this started!” He’s been unemployed since before the outbreak and just now adjusting to the idea of being out in public again. He was donning a mask as he got out of his car, wasn’t as predisposed to automatically distance more than 3 feet, and seemed a little more nervous than usual.

Contrast this with what I’ve been doing… visiting breweries and taprooms since the start, continue to visit grocery stores almost daily, working more than usual, and feeling acclimated to this new normal. And yes, I wasn’t even wearing a mask during the aforementioned interaction because I only do so in places where I’m unable to maintain a safe distance, feeling uncomfortable, or in high traffic areas.

So it makes me wonder, how many others have almost completely stayed at home this entire time? While it’s been reassuring to see more people with masks on any time they’re outdoors – including while riding bikes, jogging, walking the dog, etc., how likely are they to resume visiting restaurants, taprooms, breweries, and other small businesses?

A brief heatwave rolled into town this weekend, which brought traffic, longer queue lines at grocery stores, and many willing to explore outside of their neighborhood. So it’s hard to tell if people are simply feeling safer to go out and resume more normal patterns of behavior or if it’s just the weather. With rain in the forecast the next five days, I guess we’ll see…

I ventured out of town this weekend, the furthest I’ve traveled since this began, to visit friends and support their brewery. When speaking with the owner, his greatest concern wasn’t so much setting up a gathering space that meets the state’s criteria, but monitoring patrons to ensure they’re following the guidelines. He foresees having to bring on more employees simply to keep things safely moving in an orderly fashion.

So, as Phase I begins, please keep the following in mind, whether you’re a business owner reopening and/or a customer visiting businesses again:

  • At the very least, have your mask with you every time you leave the house and be prepared to don it when necessary.
  • If you have a mask on, please wear it properly – that means both your mouth and nose.
  • Just because we’re all wearing masks doesn’t mean social distancing goes out the window.
  • Please be patient, be aware of those around you, and respect those who are working to provide you this service despite the situation.
  • Tip more than you usually would, although most already do this.
  • Take the time to inform yourself, and those you employ, about the updated guidelines once Phase I begins.
  • This is all new to everyone, so ask questions and listen first; don’t fly off the handle because people aren’t being compliant, though if they persist in their protestations, do what’s necessary to protect yourself, your employees, and/or customers if one or more people are deliberately defying these efforts to keep everyone safe.

In the end, and I’ve been pondering this over the past two weeks, will people want to go out? Delivery is as profuse as ever, though I’ve already heard whispers about deliveries slowing a bit now that people are visiting places in person. So, with this in mind, if you own a business that’s adjusted to delivery and made it work, be prepared for a potential reversal.

And yes, I’m in the dark about what happens next just as much as anyone else is, so I all I can do is suggest preparation for at least a partial pivot away from delivery. For just as Home Beer Delivery became a sensation within a few weeks of COVID-19, altering our retail reality, there are businesses that expect to have more success with dining rooms open again, who haven’t been able to profit much from delivery.

Also, in this age of viral internet connectivity, things can change very quickly and that which may have been a fad 6 weeks ago, may become old hat in another 2 to 5 weeks. It will continue to get warmer and people will grow tired of being home ALL THE TIME, so please be prepared for another new reality over the next 6 weeks.

Lastly – and this could be very impactful, will the government issue another round of stimulus checks? It was already shot down at least once in Congress and with PPP having been in motion for at least a week now, is the government willing to dish out hundreds of billions more to put money in people’s pockets? With 33 million filing unemployment claims and the unemployment rate at 14.7% (a conservative estimate), I anticipate more checks being issued, but not for at least 4 to 6 weeks, as a best case scenario.

* pudding for those who ate their meat

About 10 days ago, Great Notion attempted to secretly announce the release of their new phone app. Except there were two problems: it was announced via their email newsletter, which meant members of the local media began writing about it immediately, plus it was only available for Apple iOS users.

It became available Thursday for Android as well, and is clearly local knowledge now, so here are my thoughts…

The Great Notion app was in development for roughly a year, though with the pandemic changing everything, making it available immediately only made sense. Funny thing is that in conversation with co-owner Paul Reiter during the grand opening of the Beaverton location at the end of February, he alluded to something new they were working on that no one else is doing. And by the looks of this app, he’s exactly right.

Homepage on the Great Notion Android App

I couldn’t tell you if the delivery option was always going to be part of the interface, though I know they’ve been trying to find ways to minimize lines and create a better experience for their customers. This is definitely a step in the right direction.

While it’s now one of the biggest apps that resides on my phone (~150mb) and response times can be a bit sluggish, it’s undoubtedly one of the coolest apps I’ve used, period. The artwork, ethos, characters, options, and clever marketing that ooze from this thing are all impressive.

The basic framework is predicated with each user being able to achieve higher and higher levels of membership based upon interactions within the app. There are games (which aren’t active just yet), beer check-ins, characters to unlock, beers you can order or wishlist, and more, each of which earn you points.

Personally, I love the “Wantlist” concept where you’re notified each time a new beer you want is available for ordering (Pickup or Delivery), as well as alerts about Can Drops, plus all the packaged beers they brew are listed. Not only is it a fun interactive experience (perfect during this Stay Home situation), it’s also a brilliant piece of brand marketing.

That’s about it for now. Please stay safe and if you don’t have a reason to be out of the house, please stay home. Things are definitely going to start changing over the next 6-8 weeks as things begin to reopen, but let’s not be cavalier about needing to immediately return to life as it was.

It’s going to take time, so hang in there.

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